Apple WWDC preview: What the analysts are saying

June 8, 2012, 2:44 PM UTC

Prepping the Moscone Center. Photo: CNET

FORTUNE — Apple’s (AAPL) World Wide Developers Conference — its only remaining public event not explicitly linked to a product announcement — is set to open in San Francisco Monday, and several analysts issued notes Friday telling their clients what to expect.

Merrill Lynch’s Scott Craig: Clockwork-like software innovation is often overlooked. WWDC mainly serves to showcase the latest Mac/iOS software and prepare developers for the upcoming release, although potential hardware launches have dominated investor sentiment at WWDC in the past. The importance of software innovation and user experience often gets overlooked, as evidenced by the past stock reaction around WWDC [See his Figure 2, below]. Mountain Lion and iOS 6 launches in upcoming months imply a major update to the two computing platforms on an annual basis, which should help Apple to maintain its market leadership. Buy. Price target: $810.

Janney Capital Markets’ Bill Choi: Ecosystem and Mac To Be Focus. We will be focused on potential hardware refreshes to the Mac product line, particularly iMac (last update in May 2011), MacBook Pro (last major update in Feb 2011 and minor update in Oct 2011), and MacBook Air (last update in July 2011). We largely expect the refresh to consist of better processors, improved displays, and thinner dimensions. A Mac product refresh should help ahead of back-to-school and competitive Windows 8 launch in Oct 2012… We don’t expect any announcements on iTV, but look for software enhancements to the Apple TV set-top-box product (user-friendly interface, better interface with other Apple products). We will be interested to see if there are any updates to media content availability. We believe it will be important for Apple to create and bundle a streaming subscription type of service as part of an integrated TV offering. Buy. Fair market value: $670.

Evercore’s Robert Cihra: Prepping for platform war. We expect both iOS 6 preview and Mac refreshes at next week’s developer conference to highlight Apple’s “platform” strength across smartphone+tablet+PC. iOS 6 to add features like native maps, expand Siri, but also possible clues into next-gen iPhone (e.g., taller 16:9 screen). With deepening inter-OS and iCloud integration ahead of OS X Mountain Lion this summer, we calculate iOS+Mac OS growing to 21% of all “platform” market share in CY12, up from just 11% in CY09 vs. Android and Windows each 35%. And while units far understate Apple’s rev/profit share given it creams the high end off each mkt, they still look critical in a thin-client world, especially timely this year as Microsoft readies its push to converge the smartphone Metro UI into Windows 8 tablets+PCs. Overweight. Target price: $750.

Wedbush’s Scott Sutherland. Remain Positive Ahead of Product Catalysts. We expect software and iCloud enhancements including more color on the OS X Mountain Lion (ver 10.8) announced on 2/16/2012 and scheduled for a summer release as the successor to OS X Lion (ver 10.7). This brings deeper integration of iCloud and new iPad inspired features to the Mac. We believe that AirPlay mirroring a new Mountain Lion feature that can stream what’s on your Mac to your HDTV via Apple TV is a likely architectural prelude to the integrated iTV offering. We also expect details on iOS 6 and potentially some improvements to Siri, which has received some flak from users. We believe Siri could use deeper integration such as with text input… We also expect a business update and data points, including number of Mac users, Mac vs. PC industry growth, number of iOS devices sold, iCloud users, number of songs sold on the iTunes Music Store, number of books downloaded at the iBookstore, Apps downloaded at the App Store. Outperform. Price target: $800. 

JMP’s Alex Gauna: Constructive Reads on Apple Ahead of WWDC. In our view, details are scant and expectations relatively subdued coming into the event, which sets the bar reasonably low for Apple to upside surprise in one form or another. Our assessment from the recent E3, Computex, and Cableshow trade shows is that no single entity, nor consortium of players, has put together anything that Apple isn’t capable of outdoing with its 2H12 refreshes of iPhones, iPads, Macs, and new media devices (iPods, Apple TV, AirPlay) and as such we are revising our estimates upwards to reflect benign pricing pressures and the further free fall in NAND component costs … WWDC arguably matters most in terms of setting the stage for the next iPhone refresh broadly anticipated to come in the fall. Now that Apple has shown the industry the way, smartphone competition is clearly outpacing the iPhone in terms of time-to-market, form factor diversity, and lower price alternatives. What the iPhone has in its favor, and needs to keep that way, is a user and developer-friendly ecosystem of attractive devices, software, and services. Market perform. Price target: N/A

Below: Merrill Lynch’s spreadsheet showing five years of Apple’s stock movements, pre- and post-WWDC.